By the time we returned from Hong Kong, I felt a sense of calm as our taxi drove through the gates to Jiao Tong University and up to Dormitory 28. As I climbed up the six flights of stairs to my room (there are only elevators in the academic buildings), I knew I was going back home. This is so different from when I first entered the campus and wondered how in the world I was going to live here for 8 weeks. In this entry, I want show you a college campus on the other side of the world. Though some parts were startlingly different, I soon realized that it had a lot in common with Ann Arbor.
First off, the campus itself is huge. Around 40,000 students are enrolled at our campus, and there is no off-campus housing like at Michigan. My program involves the Joint Institute (JI), a sort of honors college within the entire school. All of the JI students live in 10 dorms together on the east side of the campus. Behind the dorms on one side are 5 basketball courts, and on the other is a small strip mall offering food, electronics, sports equipment, and clothing. All of our classes are held in a group of buildings that hold all of the engineering courses. They are about a 15 minute walk away from the dorms, but about half of the kids bike to class. Near the classrooms are the JI Building, where our program manager and professors have offices, and the new library. One of major differences between SJTU and U-M are the libraries. Though both are quite full in the evenings, the library closes at SJTU at 10pm, leading to many kids just staying in their dorms and studying late into the night while their roommates sleep or do the same. Also on campus are 5 canteens, equivalent to our dining halls, and many other sports facilities, such as tennis courts and gyms housing weights, basketball courts, and ping pong tables.
In addition to the campus itself, the lifestyle of college students in China is worth discussing. At Michigan, students’ schedules are packed with everything from class and studying to football games and social events. However, most of the time at Jiao Tong is spent either doing schoolwork or playing sports. The entire approach to learning here is quite different. Rather than expecting lecture to provide most of the information on the class, students attend simply to ensure that they understand the material. Note taking is sparse, focusing on formulas and key steps to solve a problem. Studying is also quite different. For our engineering class, most of the students will come to the test having every problem in the book solved. This brute force method seems to prepare them for many different types of questions on an exam, but leads to many hours sitting in their room working. This may seem like the students only care about studying; in truth, though learning is the clear goal, students are also very involved with social activities. The basketball, tennis, and handball courts are full most of the daylight hours, especially after classes from 4 to 9. Many kids also get together and hang out, play games, or listen to music, just like in the dorms at Michigan.
All in all, the campus and its lifestyle can seem very different from U-M, but in then end the students still learn a great deal while enjoying their time.